In 2016, the CDC released its newest numbers of autism among the nation's children. Based on those numbers, an estimated 1-1.2 million children have been diagnosed with autism, or 1 in 68 kids. Since the spectrum is so large many of the kids who are considered high functioning can blend in more than you would think. Autism is no longer just the stereotypical kid in the corner who refuses to talk, make eye contact, doesn't have friends and is “flapping” or rocking. There is the more severe cases considered “low functioning” that do have the above symptoms, but not all are alike. More often than not, it's the kid on the playground or in the classroom beside your child, getting average to above average grades. It can be your neighbor, your coworker or the guy in line at the grocery store--and you may not even know it.
Many of the kids on the spectrum have the capability of blending with society. They may be a bit awkward socially, not get the jokes right away, have sensory sensitivities, anxiety, OCD tendencies and other symptoms you or I wouldn't notice (or that you and I have). But some big misconceptions are that they will not allow you to touch them, do not have feelings, are incapable of being happy or sad, do not “want” friends, would rather be alone, will outgrow it or will act like Dustin Hoffman in the "Rain Man." Though some individuals will exhibit severe symptoms that are obviously present, for the most part, real autism is not Hollywood. A large amount of autistic individuals will go completely unnoticed--not one case of autism is the same.
There is no known cause for autism and there is no cure. It is much more common in boys: 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls. While there is speculation as to why this is the case, and a definitive answer would be useful, it is more crucial to get the child into early treatment. There are several different types of therapies and resources to help autistic children adjust and manage their symptoms. Some benefit from medication, diet and or therapy. Most common is occupational, behavioral and cognitive therapy, but more are offered. The care plan will vary substantially, depending on the individual child and their symptoms. It is said to cost an average of $60,000 per year for a family with an autistic child. With the financial and emotional stress put on these families, it is equally imperative these families get support from the community and government with things like raising awareness and education, offering specialized programs in schools and providing insurance coverage.
There is much more about autism and how you can help and or get educated. For more information, check out the “National Autistic Society”, “Autism Speaks” (including an Arizona resource guide) along with local support from the “Autism Society of Southern Arizona” and “Arizona Autism Support”, just to name a few. On April 1st, there is the 11th Annual Autism Society of Southern Arizona Walk and Resource Fair here in Tucson at Kino Sports Complex at 9am. Please come support in Promoting Autism Awareness and Acceptance in Southern Arizona! You may register online here.